"Watergate: The Hidden History: Nixon, the Mafia, and the CIA" by Lamar Waldron (Counterpoint, $35)
Last Sunday was the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. Released in connection with that anniversary is this new book on Watergate by Lamar Waldron. That author Waldron is a relentless and insightful researcher was very apparent when Tim Gratz and I had drinks with him in Miami to discuss his 2005 tome, "Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, the Plan for a Coup in Cuba, and the Murder of JFK." Tim (himself a crackerjack JFK researcher for Solares Hill) was impressed with the numerous classified documents Lamar had turned up in making a case for a planned invasion of Cuba cut short by Kennedy's assassination.
Waldron's propensity for research is evident in his latest offering, "Watergate: The Hidden History." Here he explores why Richard M. Nixon was willing to risk his presidency by backing a series of third-rate burglaries at the Watergate and other Washington offices. Forty years later, we're still wondering.
The quote at the beginning of the book foretells the history-making events: "I ordered that they use any means necessary, including illegal means," Nixon told his chief of staff.
Yes, he was a crook.
Waldron taps into recently declassified CIA and FBI files, newly released Nixon tapes and exclusive interviews with people involved in Watergate to make a case that Tricky Dicky was knee-deep in CIA plots and Mafia schemes.
From Nixon's 1946 run for Congress to his 1974 resignation, Waldron builds a strong case for the duplicity of our 37th President. The 1972 Watergate break-in may have been the defining moment of Nixon's political career --but what could have sparked a sitting president to sanction this risky crime?
A political payoff by a future CIA director, Allen Dulles (ensuring young Nixon would hide the director's Nazi ties), and two $1 million bribes from Jimmy Hoffa and the Mafia begin to give a picture of a man who'd do whatever was necessary to achieve power. And he considered the presidency "absolute power."
The facts show, concludes Waldron, that Nixon was a tragic figure, a politically brilliant man who could have done much for the country. "But like a figure in Greek tragedy, he was deeply flawed, consumed by a drive for power, status and money that he believed he could only obtain through decades of Mafia and corporate corruption plus access to covert intelligence, legal or otherwise."
In the course of the book Waldron documents Nixon's Dirty Tricks teams, citing his exclusive interview with our own Tim Gratz (who'd headed the Wisconsin College Republicans) as one of his sources. The mastermind of the Dirty Tricks campaign, Donald Segretti, had early on tried to recruit Gratz, then a UW senior, but Gratz was wary of Segretti and attempted to stop him by reporting him to the Committee to Re-Elect the President. Neither Gratz nor CREEP knew at the time that Segretti was indeed working for the White House. CREEP only found out because of Gratz's protests.
"Watergate: The Hidden History" makes the argument that the main target of the Watergate burglary was a dossier ("the Black Book") documenting the CIA's attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro with the help of the Mafia. Assassination attempts instigated by Richard Nixon and the CIA's Richard Helms.
As always, whether you agree with Lamar Waldron's conclusions or not, you will be overwhelmed by the amazing research he amasses to make his points and to advance our understanding of our history.
by Shirrel Rhoades
"Catherine the Great" by Robert K. Massie (Random House, $35)
Europe in the 18th century was a chaotic place where almost anything could happen. How else can one explain the rise of Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia?
Simply consider these two facts. The little girl who became that mighty sovereign was not a Catherine but a Sophia and her national origin was not Russian but German.
In "Catherine the Great," Robert K. Massie manages to explain the obscure and confusing international scene of that time with clarity and insight. In 1741, following a coup d'état, Russia came to be ruled by Empress Elizabeth, the younger daughter of Peter the Great. Elizabeth was childless but determined to find an heir to continue the dynasty. At that same time there was a young boy, Charles Peter Ulrich (known as Peter), the duke of a German state called Holstein. Peter had little to commend him in either appearance or intellect but he was the son of Empress Elizabeth's sister. In 1742, Peter was summoned to St. Petersburg, adopted by his aunt Elizabeth and proclaimed heir to the Russian throne.
Also at that time, Empress Elizabeth focused her attention on a German girl, Sophia Augusta Fredericka, daughter of a prince of the tiny German province of Anhalt-Zerbst. Through her shallow, hot-tempered mother, Johanna, Sophia was second cousin of young Peter of Holstein.
Empress Elizabeth had once been engaged to Johanna's older brother but he died of smallpox. Elizabeth was overcome with grief. Eventually she took a lover but there is no record of any marriage. In January 1744, Johanna received a letter from a representative of Elizabeth urgently inviting her, "accompanied by the princess, your eldest daughter," to come to Russia as soon as possible.
Thus it was that young Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst, at the age of 14, traveled to Russia, converted to the Orthodox religion, had her name changed to Catherine, married Peter and, eventually, came to occupy the Russian throne.
By the time Empress Elizabeth died in 1761, Catherine had produced an heir, Paul (fathered by the first of her 12 lovers). Peter's bizarre, arrogant, pro-Prussian behavior had alienated everyone of importance in Russia. He was soon overthrown in a coup d'état and Catherine superseded their young son to become Empress of Russia, which she remained for the rest of her life.
Catherine's reign was remarkable. She became the prominent proponent of the Enlightenment among European royalty, praised by men like Voltaire and Diderot. Her love of art led her to become an unequaled collector; when large collections became available she pursued them with vigor and large quantities of Russian rubles. It is to Catherine that Russia owes its Hermitage Museum and the magnificent art it contains.
And on the battlefield, her generals were almost everywhere victorious. Through all of this, Catherine remained charming, compassionate, witty, thoughtful and humane and earned the right to be called Catherine the Great.
by John French